The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

Will Power Isn’t Enough

That’s a negative title for a blog post, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) proposes to avoid using words like isn’t, not, can’t etc.  I have no experience of NLP, I read an article once and remembered that single point. I suspect the premise is not to use negative words in normal conversation or written word in the hope it promotes positivity.  It probably doesn’t scratch the surface on the subject to be fair.  However, this will be a positive post despite the title as it will delve into my recent chapter of the world of ultra trail running.  

The Devil O’ the Highlands is an iconic 42 mile (6000ft of ascent) Scottish ultra that covers the top ‘half’ of the West Highland Way.  99% off road across some of the more rough sections of the whole 95 mile route with, arguably, the toughest climbs and challenging underfoot conditions.  It is a fantastic race organised by the fantastic John Duncan and team.  His races, which also includes the Highland Fling, have a European feel to them, fabulous finishes, pristine organisation and well supported.  They are probably the best ultra’s in the UK (personal opinion).

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On the start line with Gerry.  Thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

 Those who know me, will have noticed a severe lack of racing this year.  A groin injury that first appeared at the River Ayr Race last year came to a head in the wonderful Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra  (I must go back to that one) last October and that kept me out on the injury bench for around 3 months.  A return in the new year only replaced the groin injury with plantar fasciitis.  Man, that is one tough injury to shift, but shift it I did with the help of Ross from Space Clinics in Edinburgh and Lesley, a podiatrist and old school chum at JW Physiotherapy in South Queensferry and I started my come back, ahem, late April only for a slight relapse and some more down time before getting going in May.  Looking back I had about 10 weeks to get ready for the Devil, from zero!  It was only around 3-4 weeks from the Devil that I started to feel a familiar bounce return to my running, the previous 6 weeks being dogged by severe sluggishness.

Preparation could have been better.  Two weeks in the Majorcan sun, eating my own body weight in food, daily, and consuming gallons of local beer had me return to Edinburgh with a small food baby and the running was very sluggish for a couple of weeks.  In the 10 weeks I had built up my long (**actually laughs out loud**) runs to 16 miles and managed one 18 mile run and two 20 mile runs.  It wasn’t enough, but I thought what the heck, let’s do it anyway, even if I have to walk large sections I will push on to the end.

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Coming into Bridge of Orchy with Davie Gow. Davie goes on to taking 5th place in the race.  Thanks to Graeme from Monument Photos

For most who blog, it will be natural to post when inspired or happy, maybe less so when things are not going so well.  It is how social media works, endless posts of wonderful people having wonderful lives.  It can be difficult for most to admit that they were wrong privately, let alone publicise it.  I’m not immune to that, Mrs T can testify!  The truth is, I shouldn’t have toed the line in this race.  Vastly under trained, hugely under prepared and foolish to think that will power, with a little bit of ego mixed in, would get me to the end.  It didn’t and I bailed out at Kinlochleven, 28 miles into the race.  I had problems on the way there, stomach issues at 15 miles meant I spent 10 minutes in the Glencoe checkpoint toilet, my nutritional, sleep and taper approaches to the race should have been different, but at the end of the day, it came down to bad organisation and nowhere near being race primed!

 It wasn’t all bad.  My kit was superb, I don’t have to say that, the ashmei 2 in 1 shorts, classic short sleeve and socks all performed above and beyond, drying out super quickly when I was slowing down or walking and starting to feel a chill.  The zipped neck of the classic short sleeve was a welcome feature for getting a little air in when I heated up and zipping it up when I didn’t, or being attacked by midges!  A number of people complimented how good the kit looks again, which always makes me smile.  Then there was meeting Norrie, a good runner having similar problems to myself on the day.  The chat with Norrie on the way into Kinlochleven, when we were both questioning our running, our motivations, our training, is partly the catylist for this blog post.  I hope it helped Norrie as it certainly helped me.  Also, the 15 miles or so that I ran with Davie Gow, a really top chap and great runner, who went on to finish 5th.  I admired his race planning the preparation and I piggy backed onto his pacing strategy for those miles.  

After 11-12 years of running (as an adult) I love that I am still a student of the sport, I learned some valuable lessons from those guys, from myself and I suspect that will only continue.

A new chapter to my running is coming.  At 45 years old (well in a few weeks anyway) I feel excited about the future as I hook up with someone who really knows their stuff, has a wealth of experience and who I hope can tease out of me the best my body can provide.

Exciting times ahead.

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Coming over the top of the Devil’s Staircase.  Lastly, a huge thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

33 Shake (a gel, sort of)

If you take away the beer, wine, crisps, chocolate and cakes, I have a top notch nutritional approach.  Ok, the beer et al are normally a weekend thing, and strictly only when a big race isn’t coming up.  I guess about a 90/10% split.  That’s 90% of ‘good food’ like whole, fresh unprocessed food stuffs and 10% of awesome foods like beer, wine and chocolate.

When a target, A race is in the calendar and the training approach is worked on, the ‘diet’ is utterly dialled in.  It is difficult to be so strict with myself all year and I allow myself the indulgences when I am not targeting any races.  Mostly to the detriment of my waistline. I am one stubborn and determined egg though and I can switch to super strict quicker than Trump can covfefe!

Race nutrition is still an evolving programme for me.  I’ve tried lots of products over the years.  Many gels have been consumed, many have been binned, and many have been stored at the back of the cupboard for many years.  That has just reminded me to go and clear them out!  Race hydration will always be Tailwind, water and flat coke for that final push.  I will never forget just how good water tasted when I was handed it at mile 50 odd in last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate.  A lot of people talk about coconut water’s thirst quenching abilities, but for me it is just H2O, plain and simple.  Sometimes you just can’t get any better.

I’ve not found that right gel yet, or at least not until now.  I have dabbled with making my own food balls and they would be fine if you are racing where drop bags are available or checkpoints but if it is self supported and you have to carry all your food then those home made ‘power’ balls can end up home made ‘power’ crumbs after bobbling about in a race vest.  I took my spirulina balls with me last Monday (29th May 2017) on the run in the Scottish mountains.  Their binding agent is coconut oil, which when cold is solid, but put it in your hands and it quickly becomes liquid.  Well after 3 hours of running, your back gives off a lot of heat and when I took the spirulina balls out of the bag, they reminded me of an ectoplasm residue!  I am still working on the recipe for these, so if anyone out there can provide a stable binding agent, that is whole, unrefined and doesn’t taste like kak, I am all ears.  Maybe I should tweet Trump and ask when he puts in his Barnet?

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The Gel

A few months ago, I had acquired a few chia seed ‘gels’ by a company called 33 Shake.  I’d listened to the company founder, Warren Pole, on the Trail Runner Nation podcast many months ago.  If you haven’t listened to the padcast, go do it, really fun show and they have lots of great guests.  Warren is charismatic guy and, like almost all company founders, believe their products to be the best on the market.  The all natural, mostly organic ingredients list pleased my inner healthy living being.  They come as a dry gel, sounds like an oxymoron, but they are dry ingredients that you have to add some water to.

The Back of the Pack

The ingredients are:

  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Madagascan vanilla
  • Himalayan Pink Salt

The nutritional profile of a single gel pack is

  • Calories – 90
  • Protein – 2.2g
  • Carbs – 11.2g
  • Sugars – 6g
  • Fat – 4g
  • Saturated Fat – 0.4g
  • Fibre – 5g
  • Iron – 1.1mg
  • Sodium – 17.6mg
  • Potassium – 103mg
  • Calcium – 1.1mg

They don’t pack as many calories as some other gels on the market, or indeed a Tailwind stick pack, but I wouldn’t just use these gels, I would always be looking at other products like Tailwind or real food to compliment.  The pink rock salt is a good additive.  Table salt is just sodium chloride, highly refined and virtually no nutritional value.  The Himalayan salt on the other hand also has potassium, magnesium, calcium, oxygen and hydrogen in very small amounts, but not insignificant amounts that may well help you in times of stress i.e. like an ultra marathon.

Usage Instructions

The suggestion on the pack is that you should add water, coconut water or fruit juice (!!!) and do this up to 24 hours prior to using them.  I suppose so that you don’t need to put water in them when you are out on the course.  As it was, I was running with a flask of water in my race vest, so decided to fill the gels on the hoof.  I have to say that was a little fiddly and a little messy.  It didn’t help having the Ultimate Direction bottles.  One squeeze of them and water fires out the spout like a fire hose!!  On future runs, or races, I will definitely be taking the manufacturers advice.  It would also mean they would be ready when you needed them.  Filling them with water as and when you need them, means you have to wait about 10 minutes for the water to be absorbed by the dry contents.  The pack has a tight screw top lid and you need that to enable some vigorous shaking once the chosen liquid is added.  However, when they are ready to be eaten the lid comes off and you are left with an easy ‘spout’ to suck the gel into your mouth.

The Taste

I won’t deny this, I was hesitant to try this gel.  I wanted something sweet and the main content of this gel was going to be chia seeds and water.  I’ve made chia seed slurry as a desert in the past and it is an acquired taste.  The thought of that taste, at that moment in time, brought on a little fear!  As I hiked up the top half of the Devil’s Staircase I got over myself and squeezed the gel into my mouth.  I was hit by this intense sweetness, not an overly sweet taste, like you would get from ‘death by chocolate’ cake, this was pleasant and the consistency was nice.  The overriding flavour is vanilla, which again wasn’t overpowering.   The little chia seeds stuck between my teeth only moved my concentration from the pain of hiking up the Devil’s 1000ft ascent.

Overall

These are very good gels.  Ok they are not, rip it open and consume, but I think the prior arrangement of putting water in them before you head out is minor and won’t stop me using them again in training and racing.  The packaging is completely recyclable as well so there is no need to dump these empty gel packs on the course either!!  You know who you are!  A pack of 10 will cost just under 20 quid, so roughly £2 per gel.  I think you are getting great value for money if you are conscious of what types of food you put in your body.

2 in 1 Shorts by ashmei

I’ve been waiting for it to rain in Scotland.  That seems ironic, waiting for it to rain….in Scotland.  Well it’s true, Edinburgh has had the driest April for some years.  I don’t often welcome the rain, I mean, who does, but the garden certainly needed it, my lack of green digits evident by the browning of the plants and grass.  However, I did welcome it this time as I wanted to give the 2 in 1 shorts a chance in the rain.  I’ve been wearing them non-stop since getting on board as an ambassador with ashmei. 

IMG_3759I always wear an inner compression garment when racing, usually some major branded compression short under whatever short I pick for the race.  The reason, as most ultra runners will know, is to stop chaffing.  However, I have picked up some chaffing from stitched seems on other compression gear.  At last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate 100km, I had chaffing in bits of my body that I thought were impossible.   It turned out that a seemed part of the under garment had moved to a creased area on my body (enough information?) and had caused all manner of chaos down there (definitely enough information).  You could ask Mrs T how the shower went after that race, the screams could probably be heard in Aldbury (ashmei HQ).

As an ultra runner the inner merino compression short is fantastic, there are no seems. Well there are seems of course, but the way they have been stitched essentially hides them.  The merino is light, soft and tight, it fits snuggly, just exactly what a compression garment should do.   The inner isn’t 100% merino, there is some elastane in there to perform as the compression.  It is a genius combination.  As the major component is merino the heat control is fantastic, never overheating and not leaving you chilly either.  I haven’t run 100km in these shorts, yet, but I am extremely confident of how great they will perform when I do.  

The rear pocket is large enough for keys, cards and at a push I could get my iPhone 7 in there when the shorts are off.  It’s little more difficult when they are on, but that isn’t the purpose of the pocket, so it was an unexpected bonus.  Within the pocket there is a mini pocket, small enough to fit a couple of coins in and stop them rumbling around in the large outer pocket.  Inside the pocket there is this statement:

“Your body is not the same all over.  You have lumps and bumps and hot bits and cool bits.  You’re not symmetrical like a ping pong ball. You have different sized limbs and muscles, each with their individual needs to be protected against the elements.  This is why we have developed 360 degree MAPPING, to position the most suitable technical fabrics around the body to maximise comfort and performance”

This says it all about ashmei as a company, they are completely athlete centric.  We, you, our comfort and performance come first to ashmei, it is one of the overriding reasons that I wanted to become part of their ambassador team.

Back to the shorts.  The outer layer is a mid length nylon/elastane blend, very light, with ‘breather’ strips down each side which are excellent for keeping things cool around that area.  The shorts fit excellently, they feel tight around the areas that they should, and they feel loose around the areas that need it.  As I said at the top of this blog, I wanted to wait for the rain, I wanted to see how they would perform in the wet.  I opted to stick on a waterproof jacket, an expensive waterproof jacket!  I wanted to compare the shorts to one of the leading brands of waterproof sports wear out there.  Of course I had the classic short sleeve t-shirt on underneath.  I don’t wear anything else these days.

So I went out for an 8 mile run, along the coast. It was lovely to be just running again, the freedom it provides.  Being out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, there is nobody around, all I could hear were the waves crashing onto the beach, the rain hitting the ground and the gulls squealing at each other. 

I had actually forgotten that the 2 in 1 shorts were waterproof.  As I unlocked the door to the house I looked down and noticed the beads of water on the shorts as they rolled down and off the shorts.  These particular shorts have been washed a number of times so it was reassuring to see that they were retaining their waterproofness.  In stark contrast the top brand waterproof jacket was socked through!!

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Water sitting in beads on top of outer layer of the shorts.

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And water soaking through the waterproof jacket.

The part that ashmei don’t advertise is the multiple use of the shorts.  The merino wool inner is wicking and anti-bacterial, so the sweat doesn’t stay in the garment, they can be used for a good few days before they need to be washed.  I was sceptical of this unknown fact, but it is very true.  I have two pairs of the shorts and once they have dried they go back into the drawer and washed once a week, saving a little on the washing machine electricity, not to mention the way overpriced washing liquid!

Typically of ashmei, the shorts look great too, a must for the vain types like me!!

Overall, stylish, will perform in all conditions, innovative design for both parts of the short and fantastic value for money.

Now, go out and buy some, you won’t regret it.

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Blood and the Endurance Athlete

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, have no medical training, other than Boys Brigade first aid in 1985, and I accept no responsibility for any nonsense you get up to on the back of what I am about to write.  Consider yourself warned, or disclaimed, or something.  I also have no affiliation with any company that I mention in this blog.

I recently had a full blood analysis carried out.  I’ve used Blue Horizon Medical in the past for various testing when I have been wanting to discover more about how my body works under pressure during heavy training and if there was any nutritional or functional (training/rest/recovery) changes I could make to improve or adapt.  I did this testing when I started to train for the ACP 2016 and half way through the training block.  I didn’t blog about it at the time, mainly because nothing came up in the blood panel, all looked normal at the time.

So it was a surprise to see a few red flags in the latest blood panel when my training has been somewhat subdued over the last 6-8 months.

The first and probably biggest red flag was below normal HCT (Haematocrit) and Haemoglobin.  For an endurance runner these are of particular importance as they constitute the oxygen carrying red blood cells that supply oxygen and other nutrients to the working muscles.  My HCT was 0.39 or 39% and Haemoglobin was 129 g/L (normal range is 130 – 170 according to the lab where the test was carried out).  You might think that they are just below normal and I have nothing to worry about.  That may well be true to your average Jocky MacJockface on the street. Considering the average Jocky has an HCT of 45% (source Wikipedia), 39% is a worrying number.   WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) have a limit on HCT of 50%, anything over that and you are suspected of doping with EPO.  I’ve also read that steroids can boost HCT too.

Over the years I have read many books about pro cycling.  Although not a cyclist, I am intrigued with the sport, love watching the grand tours, the one day classics etc.  It is fabulous to watch.  Its dark side has also had me captivated.  One thing that sticks in my mind is the micro dosing of EPO.  The reason they micro dosed was to ensure their HCT didn’t go above the WADA limit of 50%.  These guys already started with HCT levels of 43-48% and look at the performance gains they got from marginal increases.  Now imagine the exact opposite, the marginal decreases in HCT and the affect that has, and that is where I am right now!

Don’t worry, I am not about to purchase some Chinese EPO online and start stabbing a needle in my a$$ each day.  Needles don’t worry me, I’ve had plenty blood taken over the years and have my fair share of tattoos.  Apart from the moral implications of doping, the thought of actually having to jab myself makes me boak!

From what I understand, a low HCT with a low MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume) and a high RDW (Red cell Distribution Width) can be a sign of iron-deficient anaemia.   My readings for MCV was 83 fL and RDW of 14.2, these are on the boundary of what is considered low for MCV and high for RDW (again according to the lab’s thresholds).

Of course, this is all self diagnosis and that can be dangerous, but the basics are there to see, even with my limited understanding.   The numbers mean I could be slightly anaemic, possibly just a short term thing, maybe not.  There are other, more serious, reasons that could account for the values, but I am not concerning myself with those, because other than when I train, I feel ok.   What is puzzling me is that I do eat iron rich foods, heme iron and non heme iron, daily.  I take care to consume these iron sources with vitamin C sources to maximise absorption.  It’s nutrition 101.

Folate, B12 and Ferritin levels were all within the normal range, on the low side again, but still within that lab’s normal parameters.

So what’s the solution?  The solution I am going for is to supplement and make a few changes to diet.  Thorne Research do an iron supplement called Ferrasorb.  I’ve used Thorne products in the past and they are expensive, but they one of the best supplement companies and I am hoping this is short term.  Additional to that will be the recommencement of the consumtion of more organ meat, Mrs T will be delighted about that.  Liver, heart, kidney, even good quality black pudding will now need to feature weekly in my diet, I feel a few insta photos of some breakfasts coming up!!

[edit: first breakfast shot post writing]

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The remainder of the blood panel was looking quite favourable.  Cholesterol, HDL and Ratio (the important parts) were within range, as were vitamin D, Thyroid function, liver function, calcium and Uric Acid.  CRP or C-reactive Protein is a good marker of inflammation in the body and my levels were very low.  Meaning, general inflammation is also very low.  Could this mean I am over the injuries, or at least getting over them?

Overall, I think the testing has been worth it.  As endurance athletes we need to know what is going on endogenously as well as the exogenous results from training and racing.   There have been times in the past where I’ve been training hard and getting nowhere with progression, maybe a test like this could have thrown up the reason why there was not forward movement.

I plan to have another test (the same one) in 4-6 weeks, after I have given my body enough time to adjust to any changes in diet or supplementation.  My hope is that I can resolve the problems with food and avoid any medical intervention.

If you follow me in instagram or twitter or facebook you may have noticed that I have been spending a fair amount of time in the gym.

I am actually quite enjoying it.  When you are given a programme to work on, that you trust will fix all the broken bits, it makes it so worth while.  As I age (I’ll be 28 this year), this supplementary must be part of your running.  You can’t live life with regrets, but if I did have one it would that I started this additional work 10 years ago! (when I was 18).

In terms of running, I’ve been doing a little.  The foot injury appears to be on the mend apart from a flare up now and again, so I have to be careful with that.  Managing it to resolution is the key and I have a way forward for that.  The groin issues that I have had for about 18 months are markedly better, probably due to the gym work and the physio sessions I have had recently.  I can’t thank Ross at Space Clinics enough for the work they have done to put this old body back together. It was worth every penny and I would not hesitate to return should another problem crop up.

I’ve also had some initial chats with a coach (which reminds me I need to tell them what the latest situation is!!!), with the view to getting some expert advice on the way forward.  I don’t feel quite fit enough yet to get onto ‘the programme’ but I am hoping over the coming months that I can transition to their planning.  It will be a new departure for me and one I am quite excited about.

Until next time.

Ashmei Ambassador Day 2017

Big Day Ashmei

That was the twitter hashtag for the 2017 ashmei ambassador day (#bigdayashmei) and I had been one of the very lucky people to be invited down to their headquarters for a fun day of brand promotion and then self promotion!!  More on that later.  I started the day at 4:15am, awake long before my alarm was due to blare into my eardrums.  It was still dark outside and the birds were just starting up there morning singing.  I’d decided to cycle to the airport in an attempt to retain my fitness due to a little niggling foot injury.  It was an interesting 14 miles to the airport.  At that time of a Saturday morning the only evidence of civilization is taxis and a handful of ‘walks of shame’.  It give a glimpse of a post apocalyptic Edinburgh, in fact going through Niddrie and Craigmiller give you that at any time of the day or night!! The clubs and pubs were closed, the kebab houses were closed, even the 24 hour Tesco looked empty!  It was a superb ride, the roads were empty, all the traffic lights seemed to be in my favour and I made it to the airport in about 55 minutes, a lot less than I had anticipated.

The flight down was pretty uneventful, however, it was a huge plane, and full!!  A Boeing 767, seat configuration of 2-3-2 and about 35 rows, you do the maths!  It was a big beast and I wondered if the small Edinburgh runway had enough metres in it to get this colossal piece of steel off the ground when there was no prevailing westerly to charge into and give lift.  My uncertainty was answered when the Rolls Royce engines fired up and got us into the air in no time.  It was a beautiful morning in Edinburgh with the sun coming up over the snow capped Pentland hills.  It reminded me of the brilliant training runs I’ve had over the years in the Pentlands, Owain, @scottishrunner (ashmei ambassador extraordinaire and prolific blogger and tweeter) can testify to the beauty of running in the hills only a short hop from Edinburgh city centre.  It really is a fantastic place to live and run.  For such a small city there are trails and tracks all over, combining to make 100s of kms to explore or commute as I do.  I’m digressing a little here but a wee plug for this great city is alright, isn’t it?  We landed a little over the expected time and I headed straight for the car rental desk in the Sofotel Hotel.  There was a very, very long corridor to the car rental desk, all nice lighting giving a luxury feel to it.  However, they must have been pumping out air freshener into the corridor, as it stank like one of those awful car Magic Tree air fresheners.  I felt sick!!  I felt even sicker (is that a word) after the initial conversation at the car rental desk and I will just leave that story there for now. This is supposed to a happy, cheerful blog post.  Not raising the cortisol levels!!!  So in order to maintain my low levels of stress, you understand, keeping my blood below the boil point I’ll just refrain from going into any details.  Which is more to do with the impending litigation that is coming their way!!!!   By this time it is too late to go through the process of another car hire, it’s 9:15 and I am supposed to be in Aldbury in 15 minutes.  Black cab it is then!!!  £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££

Albury is in a beautiful part of the country just north of London.  It’s a small rural village about a half hour train journey from Euston station, close to Tring.  Tring is another small commuter town close by, but the train station at Tring has about 8 platforms and a massive park and ride car park.  The train station looks out of place, it might actually be bigger than Tring itself.

I arrive in Aldbury at 9:45, the Taxi driver booting it for me, and after much pound notes are exchanged, I find the ashmei HQ and arrive, fashionably late, but I do arrive, which at some point earlier, I had my reservations about.  Ashmei HQ is a converted stable, decorated modern inside with large bi-folding doors out into a courtyard.  Picturesque is the word that comes to mind.  The vintage Airstream  is parked outside.  The Airstream is the vehicle the company take to Expo’s and events, it is stylish, sleek and functional.  Exactly like the ethos of the company.

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Arriving late is never good, everyone else has already introduced themselves to everyone and made their new friendships.  However, I didn’t feel like an outsider here, everyone was very friendly, kindred spirits almost.  The other ambassador hopefuls were all just like me, passionate about their sport, willing to talk openly about themselves, their training, their gear and their aspirations.  I was like pig in sh*t.  Here I was, among about 20 other people who I genuinely felt I couldn’t bore with my inane running chat.  They wanted to hear my story, equally, I wanted to hear theirs.  I met some fantastic and charismatic people, be them ambassador hopefuls or already ambassadors or indeed the core ashmei team themselves.

It was fantastic to meet the team behind the ashmei brand, Stuart, Gary, Rob, Elliot, the girls and the 4 existing ambassadors helping out for the day were all very warm and welcoming.  The day started properly with Stuart, the company founder and owner, giving more details on the company history, his own background, what makes ashmei different to the others, the technology, the company ethos and mission.  I knew more than before, that I wanted to be part of this family.  I could see, in Stuart, the same passion in the ashmei products that I have for my sport.  What Stuart described was the reason I was here, he said that once you wear ashmei, it becomes your favourite, you wont wear anything else, you end up cherishing it.  I believe him.

Next up was Gary, the brand marketing guru.  Gary discussed the way ashmei like to be shown (look at this video ).  It epitomises the brand, performance, innovation, quality and style.  It’s it a fabulous piece of cinematography.  Gary didn’t make any claims about the video for himself, but I am sure he had a big hand in it’s production.  Gary showed us the old world media (newspapers, magazines etc) coverage the brand is now receiving, their recent very high rating in the GQ ‘must haves’ being of particular interest.  I can see that the online, or new world, marketing is where the company would like to explore and I can see that any ambassador would be central to that.  My own online presence can be sparse, more to do with time constraints, than having nothing to say.   I sometimes wonder how people manage to have such an big online presence, they must spend all day on the interwebs.   If I am to be lucky and selected as a brand ambassador, this will change.  I will make the time.  It’s not like I don’t enjoy it, making the video for the ambassador day (see here ) was a joy, a joy I never thought I would experience.  Completing that video and watching it through brought a real sense of achievement.  I am no Speilberg, but I can only improve and I know people who can help me with that.

Following Gary was Elliot, the lead designer.  What a job he has and I could feel his enthusiasm for ashmei.  After all, a lot of what I was wearing and looking at were, essentially, made by him.  That must be such a rush, to watch athletes perform at all levels in gear he has designed.  The clothing is designed athlete centric, they are manufactured around the athlete not a market demand.  ashmei bring products to the athlete, for the athlete, designed for the athlete, no extras, no gimmicks, no fuss.  Elliot showed us that right down to the miniscule details the decisions that are made in design and manufacturing are always done for the athlete first, the price point is of no concern until the very last step of bringing a product out.

It really was a fabulous insight into the company, I felt inspired and enthusiastic, at that point I knew what I wanted to do.  We were then given the bombshell that we were to give a 5 minute presentation on our journey, our story.  We’d heard the ashmei story, their journey, now it was over to us.  We would, in turn, be given a 5 minute slot in the Airstream to give our story in front of Stuart, Gary and an existing ambassador.

The group were split into cyclist and runners and while we headed out for a 10k run in the surrounding trails and hills, the cyclists would be giving their story in the airstream.  When we came back the cyclist would head out for a ride in the countryside while the runners gave their story.  The group was a real mix of people:  Young, not so young (me), tall, short (me again), triathletes, cyclists, runners (me yet again) and even a decathlete.  A decathlete who has Olympic aspirations, wow!!  Even though we were all essentially competing against each other, it didn’t feel like that and unlike a race where I want to win, I would gladly step aside to let any of the people I met win the ambassadorship.  All were worthy, all had their own story to tell and I wish them all the best of luck in the remainder of the process.

I haven’t mentioned Rob yet.  Rob is the head of sales.  My introduction to Rob was a little unusual.  When I arrived, I spoke to Lucy who, kind of, got me signed in and gave me a lovely pair of ashmei socks.  I then started chatting to a couple of other hopefuls and Rob leaned through and said, ‘Rob’ and shook my hand.  A little confused, I thought, how does he know my name, this is because I am late, they have all been talking about me, paranoia creeping in, but of course, DOH!, he was introducing himself.  What a div I can be sometimes.  Rob, Owain, Elliot and David lead the run from HQ and out onto the surrounding trails.  It was fabulous to be running again, my foot injury preventing me from doing much running these last few weeks.  David is an experienced ultra runner having completed some of the worlds toughest races.  It was good to chat with him, he has run a few races that are on my bucket list.  Chatting to Sam, Jo, Ed, Gemma, Sophie was easy and it turns out Sophie will be representing England at the Anglo Celtic Plate in Hull in May.  See ye there!  Rob wanted to hear what we were all about and made his way around all the runners in the group.  Then as Ed, Rob and I were running Ed asked Rob what his story was.  It resonated with me so much.  It’s not for me to tell it, but let’s just say we have a similar path to fitness and sport.  We arrive back to HQ after covering about 10k in the trails.  I miss the endorphine rush of running.  Hopefully not long before I get it coming every day again.

ashmei2

Photo nicked from courtesy of Owain Williams @ScottishRunner

We enter the HQ building to be confronted by a sea of cake!!  Mostly homemade, all delicious, my cake value was taken off and I got stuck in, consuming close to my own body weight of Swedish home made apple and cinnamon slice!! Y – U – M!  I also indulge in a little retail therapy, well with such a big discount it would be rude not to….

The cyclist then head off for their ride and the runners are called, one by one, into the Airstream.  The guys who go first ease all our apprehensions. It’s just chat they say, nothing to worry about, but I hadn’t given it any thought while out on the run, too engrossed in chatting to the other runners.  Before long, and after yet more cake, it was my turn.  Owain was the original ambassador on the ‘panel’ but, quite rightly, stepped out and let David take his place when it was my turn.  It felt easy to talk to them, I generally am not one to blow my own trumpet, and I don’t think that is what they were looking for either.  However, I did mention the three thousand views of my application video J.  I am not sure that I got everything across well though, I felt a little nervous, and there were a few things that I wanted to say that I didn’t.  It’s like the job interview where you leave and immediately remember all the stuff you had in your head before you went in, but it slips to the back of your memory when you are there.  I think I did ok though, a little background on me, my aspirations for the future, my intensity of leaving no stone unturned when preparing for big races and my desire to test their fabulous kit in a Scottish Highland Winter and race over the world in it.

 

And then it was over. The day ended. I felt a little deflated when I left, I’d been on a high all day and now it was finished.  I had to leave sharp as I travelled back to Heathrow but train, underground and train.  Thanks again to Ed (see Ed’s work here) for taking me to Paddington.  It’s been a while since I have been in London and you forget quickly how to use the underground with any confidence and speed!  The flight home was uneventful and the ride back to the house was swift (downhill mostly).  I got home to a nice glass of wine and a debrief of the day to Lisa.

It was a wonderful day, having not experienced anything like it before, I’ll remember it.  And if I am not successful this year, there is always next year.  As for the clothing itself.  I amabsolutely sold.

#bigdayashmei

ashmei1

Photo courtesy of ashmei

New Ventures


I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have been asked to become a 2017 ambassador for Xmiles.co.uk, the endurance sports store with a specialism in sports nutrition.  I love Anthony’s passion and approach to sports nutrition and this is shown in the vast choice of brands he stocks.  Brands like,

and many, many more at very competitive prices.    They also have products for the vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes out there and supply monthly endurance nutrition boxes.

I’m looking forward to using the products to fuel me through my training and racing in the coming year and hopefully beyond.

xmiles_webby

 

River Ayr Race 2016 (RAW) – Race Report

River Ayr Race – 17th Septmner 2016

The River Ayr Race is a small 40 mile mostly off road ultra from Glenbuck Loch to Dam Park Stadium in Ayr.  It attempts to follow the river Ayr from source to sea and claims to be the only Scottish ultra to do this.  I’d entered this race last year but after (yet another) bout of injury I’d had to pull out and considered doing the same this year given the summer of injury I’ve had this year!!  Is it just summer I am injured?  I must look back my training logs.

This race was always going to be a hard training run for me, I’d decided before the race that I needed to control pace and effort in an attempt to get my longest run since the ACP 100km under my belt.  With the next 100k at the end of November, I needed to get these long runs in and this race fitted perfectly with my training plan.

Nutrition, was as always, Tailwind #gotailwind, and I also had some flat coke for the last push.  As usual it worked out pretty well, I also had a couple of emergency gels that I actually just binned.  I don’t know why I continue to bother with gels.  Probably the convenience of having them, but I just don’t need any solid foods on these races.  Tailwind did the trick and I took on some extra sugar in the form of the coca cola in the last 5 miles and that was it.

Shoes:  I was trying out a newish pair of Adidas Boost Ravens.  They came with those silly lock laces and they were cut off straight away, but I struggled to find sports laces that would fit them.  I eventually opted for a pair of black ‘business shoes’ laces.  They were thin enough to fit through the rigid plastic eyelets of the shoes.  All in all, great shoes, but I am losing a toenail and my feet were pretty sore afterwards, so the long distance off road shoe discovery continues.

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Photo from Sandra Hunter

The race starts after a short brief from the race director and Rob Souter, a relay runner, 2 other lads and myself set the early pace.  Running at 6:30-6:50 pace this early on was, on hindsight, not a good idea.  The relay runner pulls away after about 2 miles and I pull off the little group about 5 miles into the race eventually catching the relay runner about 9 or 10 miles in.  I go through 20 miles in a little under 2:20 with second place not that far behind me.  On exiting Failford, around 25 miles, I miss a set of stairs and continue straight on, only realising when the trail comes to an end that I had gone the wrong way.  So I turn around and head back to the steps only to see David coming around the corner and heading up the steps.  I think this should be good to have some company for a bit and I start to climb the stairs. TWANG, sudden sharp and excruciating pain on the inside right thigh.  I couldn’t actually lift my leg to the next step.  To be fair to David he asked if I was ok.  I said it was cramp and would need stretched out, but this wasn’t cramp.  This felt like a muscle tear, it took all my energy not to scream out.  I hobble to the top of the steps and try to walk on flat ground, but it wasn’t for shifting.  I wonder how far the next checkpoint is and how I will get back to Ayr, but then, suddenly it disappears.  No reason, no stretching, nothing, it goes as quick as it appeared and I am able to start jogging.  The last mile was over 10 minutes so I know I’ve lost a bit of time on David.  As I leave the river bank to run across a field towards a short tarmac section I can see David at the top of the hill, I work out he is about 3 minutes ahead of me and so I see what I can do to catch him up.  A little time after that, I make another wrong turn and after some deliberation find the correct path and another 10 minute mile I decide that the win was probably not on the cards.  David knew the course having run it previously, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to keep him in sight.  However, even a minute is not enough to keep someone in sight on this course, it is so up and down, thick undergrowth and lots of sharp right and left hand turns.  Then another mistake at Stair, ironically, I miss a set of Stairs and end up crawling over some landslide, nearly falling into the river then thinking this can’t be right and head back the way.  I can’t find another way, so go back over the landslide and nearly falling into the river again and another 10 minute mile gets clocked.  Any attempt at a win has just faded and I settle in for the run home.

I pick up my drop back at the last CP and headed for the finish.  I knew I would finish, the pain of the Sartorius muscle a distant memory, just the pain of ultra running to contend with now.  There was a small water stop with about 4-5 miles to go and I should have asked how far ahead the leader was there, because a) David was struggling (unbeknown to me of course) and b) I felt really good.  I didn’t ask, but I did increase the pace down to 7 minute miles or under when the terrain allowed it.  A strong finish was as good as any and as I reached Ayr, I felt like I could keep on running.  The last mile of the race is along the river bank in a park and to get into the stadium you have to run, on a path, down the length of the back straight of the running track, on the outside of the stadium.  You can see into the track through the fence and there, on the final 100m of the track, was David hobbling across the finish line.  I crossed the finish line less than 2 minutes behind him having made back probably about 5-6 minutes in the last 4-5 miles or so!!!  Don’t get me wrong, David ran a great race, and suffered a bit on the last few miles with cramp, but had I known I was so close I am sure I could have closed that gap down a little more.  Would I have won?  I doubt it, 2 minutes is a lot of time to make up in 4-5 miles after running 35 miles.  However, it would have been fun to try.

I settled in this race, eased back knowing that the win wasn’t on and while it wasn’t really a target race, a win is a win.  I learn something about myself on every single ultra I have ran, be that something positive or negative.  In this case I settled for second place, but that won’t happen again.  I won’t settle for anything, I will keep pushing as hard as my body will allow me to.  You just don’t know what is going on ahead of you.

Results Men:

1st David Mclure 4:57:30

2nd Robert Turner 4:29:21

3rd Stuart Murdoch 5:10:57

Results Women:

1st Morgan Windram-Geddes  5:55:01

2nd Angela Reid 5:55:47 (close race that)

3rd Iona Mackay 7:03:21

 

River Ayr Race 2016 Results

The River Ayr Race is a fabulous little ultra, brilliant organisation (although a few more signs would have been prefect) and a fantastic route.  It has all the hallmarks of a cracking Scottish ultra and I would recommend it to anyone.  The route takes you through some lovely little towns, including Sorn.  Sorn brings back memories of me as a 15 year old, running the 4 mile Sorn Chase.  I’ll need to look back the Lanark Gazette cut outs my Mum kept, but I think I ran (and won the under 16s) in a little under 22 minutes. Makes me quite chuffed that nearly 30 years later (and a very long running sabbatical) that I am a little quicker than that now.  It would be quite something to be able to say the same in another 30 years time…..Check back here on 1st October, 2046 🙂

 

Adidas Ultra Boost / ST

To Say I love Adidas Ultra Boost shoes would be an understatement.  In my opinion these are the best running Shoes Adidas have ever made, particularly for the ultramarathon market.  I’ve used many Adidas shoes over the years, but when the first Boost models started to appear and switched to them very quickly.  I’ve always preferred the bouncier ride, when you clock up the miles I do, the extra cushioning really helps.  I am not about to go down the rabbit hole of minimalist v over cushioned shoes, because I wear shoes from both camps and everything else between.  This is where I would put the Ultra Boosts. They may be verging on the over cushioned, but the level of Boost material is nowhere near that of a Hoka Clifton, or Altra Olympus.  As soon as I put on a new pair of Ultra Boosts I feel my feet are at home.  Maybe not so much the ST model (more on them later), but the standard Ultra Boosts feel like big slippers.  I normally have to go up a half size in Adidas Shoes, so I would recommend always trying before buying.

So my size 8.5 UK are around 300g in weight, not the light racing flats, but not the heaviest of cushioned running shoes either.  The upper is soft and allows your foot to expand into the toe box (an absolute priority if you ask me).  The toe box itself is wide, I need the width and the lacing is very easily adjustable, like you would expect.  Shoes that squash together your toes when running are going to cause you all sorts of problems. Issues like toes rubbing, causing blisters, toenail issues to name a few.  A running shoe should allow your foot to spread out in impact, let it do what it was designed to do.

The impact is soft but you get enough feedback from the ground.  Over tarmac these shoes are in their element, on groomed trails they function well, but they are not off road shoes.  The grip on the sole will not stop you slipping and sliding on the ascents and descents. To be fair to Adidas, they don’t advertise this shoe that way, but if you are running on mixed terrain, I would opt for another shoe.  They can also be a little slippy in wet conditions, which is a little disappointing living in Scotland!

Their range is good, I often get around 800-1000 miles on each pair before the rubber is worn through to the midsole.  By that point the bounce from the Boost material is also significantly less.  I am on my 6th pair of these shoes now and I wore these bright yellow pair when I won the Scottish 100km Championships in April.

Now, the ST model.  I like to rotate shoes, normally depending on terrain or distance, but I always like to keep two pairs of my standard everyday road shoes.  However, I could not get another pair of the Ultra Boosts at the time, so I opted for the ST model.  This mean Stability.  I have never ran in stability shoes and if I am honest thought the whole stability/motion control thing was a bit snake oil.  I am happy to be proven wrong on this, so if anyone has peer reviewed clinical studies on stability or motion control shoes protecting you from injury I am all ears….or eyes.  Anyway, I start to wear the ST model and within a couple of days I develop a bit of plantar pain.  Nothing that a good going over with the B*stard ball doesn’t fix, but each time I wear them now, I get the same problem.  I don’t get plantar problems with the standard model, so maybe there is something to motion control shoes.  The jury, for me, is still out.

Overall, the Ultra Boosts are a great pair of running shoes.  Pricey when new at around £130 RRP, but there are always deals on the older models around.  I hope they don’t change them too much on subsequent models over the coming years and they are perfect just the way they are.

UCAN Superstarch

UCAN Superstarch – Additional Review 26th May 2015

I thought it important to provide an additional review to the UCAN product because previously I have only ever tested it under long endurance events or training.  I wanted to see what, if any, difference it would make to my more intense training sessions.  Last Thursday (21st May 2015) I had scheduled, in my training plan, a hill session.  The session consisted of a 20 minute warm up then 8 x 90 seconds hill repeats with jog down recovery and when the heart rate settled to under 70% of maximum, then a 20 minute cool down jog.  At this point it is important to note that I am useless on hills, my hill climbing and descending is atrocious.  It is an area that I am trying to correct, hence this session and the many others that i have completed over the last few week and will continue to do so.  Anyway, I decided to use my last sachet of the berry flavour UCAN prior to the session to see what effect that might have.  There is no need for me here to go into the details of how to mix, or how the product sits in my stomach etc, you can read all that, if interested, below.  I mixed and drank the UCAN about 45 minutes before the session started.

Like before there is no definable ‘feeling’, there is no sugar rush (I eat very little sugar so know when I have consumed  some) and no ‘hit’ like you may get from coffee.  I have heard some people say that UCAN provides that top gear, particularly for those on a low carbohydrate nutritional plan.

Anyway, the session turned out to be roughly 400m hill reps, with around 20m of elevation gain, so a 5% grade.  Doesn’t sound like much, but this was a hard session, especially for one with little hill skills!!!  The paces for each rep ranged from 5:35 to 5:55 per mile, the paces getting quicker as the session progressed.  The average paces on this session were quicker than my threshold session the Tuesday before, which was on a flat course with a partial tail wind!!!  Now I wasn’t feeling 100% that day, but I don’t think I felt much better before this session.  I felt I had a little more energy and I certainly ran harder and faster the more the session progressed.  In fact each rep got quicker that the last.   I was very pleased with how things went in particular how I seemed to be able to find that extra gear when I needed it.  I jogged back to work feeling really good, the feeling I used to get after a very hard track session in my youth.  A feeling I have rarely had since!!!

I have wondered if a diet low in traditional carbohydrates affects that top end pace, top end effort, and I suspect it can.  The UCAN product may just be what is needed for those following the low carb, high fat protocol, who want to train harder and get the most out of themselves without compromising their chosen nutritional plan.

UCAN Superstarch – Reviewed 18th April 2015

I didn’t know if this was nutrition or gear, but since I have a different idea about how the nutrition page will develop, I’ve decided that in-race products, or even pre race products should be in the Gear page.  Anyway, this is my initial thoughts on the UCAN product.

I’d heard about the UCAN product on podcasts like Nourish Balance Thrive and Ben Greenfield where the hosts of the podcasts raved about this product.  As I had moved to a low carbohydrate nutrition plan, UCAN, seemed to fit the bill.  It is a starch that doesn’t spike blood sugar and this is important for any low carb plan.  It was originally developed for children who had a severe reaction to, what we would call, normal carbohydrates.  I won’t pretend to understand the science behind UCAN, but if you are interested you can read that over at the UCAN website.  All I was concerned with was how would this perform in an ultra event and with one of their selling points being the slow release and slow burn of the product, it seemed to fit the bill.  I’ve suffered from gastric issues, like most runners, but I am now more cautious about what I take on and test it rigorously before an event.

I’d sent off for their free sample (P&P the only thing to pay) some weeks before the G2E from UK UCAN Website. This arrived in plenty of time to test it out on a 4 hour 15 minute training run I had planned.  They come in a roughly   by 4 inch packet.  The free sample includes two flavours, berry and no flavour.  To be honest, I avoided the no flavour one after being almost physically sick drinking the Vitargo no flavour product!!  The product is a powder and has to be mixed with water.  I have mixed this in a normal water bottle and a blender bottle with the little steel ball inside.  I have to say that a blender bottle is really needed.  I found some clumps on the bottom of the normal bottle even after very vigorous shaking!!

On the training run I headed out with one bottle of UCAN and the other water and electrolyte tablet.  There was a little GI stress, but I wasn’t sure if this was down to my dinner the previous night or the UCAN, both of which were new.  However, the training run went very very well.  I managed 36 miles in a little over 4 hours at an average pace of 6:46 per mile.  My heart rate was low, in the 130’s and I felt very very good.  Could I put this down to the UCAN, I wasn’t sure as I was also testing out some Honey Stinger Gels.  So the following week I mixed up the no flavour UCAN and headed out for a 3 hour 30 minute run and this time I only took the UCAN.  I can’t say I felt anything.  It is not like the almost sugar hit that you can get from a gel but I didn’t need anything else on the run, and when I got in I was unusually not that hungry.  It passed the GI test and was deemed fit for the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra.

On race day Steven would be filling up my water bottles and I would request which type I had at each check point.  At the first two check points I opted for the UCAN and drank it slowly for the first 30 miles of the race.  The pace was quick at this point (around 6:33 per mile) and I can say for sure that the UCAN product was performing well.  I did feel that I had a steady flow of energy up to the point that I pulled out (due to injury – you can read about that in this blog post).  I was also taking Honey Stinger gels and after 28 miles they were definitely providing an immediate energy surge, but there was the underlying feeling of a small store that I was able to use.  I can only assume this was the UCAN.  I suspect a bonk would have been avoided had I been able to continue with the race.

However, I did get turned off the taste/texture after 30 miles and 2 water bottles of UCAN. At the next checkpoint I wanted something a little fresher.  UCAN has a velvety texture not unlike a Guinness or other kind of stout beer and I am not a fan of those types of drinks.  I much prefer a crisp, sharp taste and at that point in the race that is what I wanted, so opted for the water and electrolytes.  The next 8 miles were painful for other reasons, but when I did decide to end my race, it wasn’t because i thought I wouldn’t finish and it certainly wasn’t because of a bonk.  A bonk usually appears due to grastro intestinal issues, the runner isn’t getting the energy they need from the gut/digestion process and in turn this causes the runner to slow and sometimes walk.  Only when the digestion system processes some food and distributes the energy to the muscles does the runner feel like running again, or running at the speed they were when the bonk happened.

The texture alone will not make me stop using it as I think the benefits far outweight my texture preferences.  In longer ultra races I may have to alternate between UCAN and water/electrolyte.  Time will tell.  I will be using the UCAN product again next week at London Marathon.  This time I am planning on taking it an hour before the race starts.  I want to see if it will last me for the duration of the race.  I will take a couple of honey stinger gels with me too, just in case I start to fall apart in those last 6 miles!!!!

 

Where am I?

It has been a couple of months since I last put digit to keyboard and so with Mrs T out with the girls for a wee birthday celebration (not the last I might add)  I find myself with a bit of spare time.  With the girls in bed, I have TdF and then the anniversary games, I really should also be spending this time stretching, foam rollering or getting in that all important mobility work.  But. I’ve done all that today already. Get me…Super Organised Dude!  Yep, you may have noticed that the acronym is SOD and I am sure that is probably relaying around your head, indeed proceeded by the word bloody or f**kin’ or some other popular adjective!!  Yep, I’ve had a good going over with ‘The Stick’, bought at NYC Marathon in 2007 🙂

Two Thousand and Seven !!!!!  I was 35 years old.  It was such a long time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  My first marathon. I could almost recall each mile, each step, the smells, the weather, the other runners.  It is so vivid, more so that other experiences..  I am not sure I could recall the same for any other marathon, or ultra,  I have ran.  I am often asked what was my best marathon and I assume that they mean my quickest.  My answer is always the same…New York.  Absolutely, hands down.  Maybe because that was my first marathon (BTW, I didn’t achieve the time I set out for and was beaten, just, by the Junkie, Lance Armstrong), when actually, I think it was just the best experience I have had in a race. It was such a fantastic time, and we went to NYC wth some really good friends too.

Anyway, I’ve gone off at a tangent!

It’s been nearly two months since I last put digit to keyboard and I feel like there are lots of things to tell you about and at the same time, very little information to give!  Running wise, and this is a running blog, there is very little to tell.  I have been injured for some time now.  All that stuff above about stretching, massage and mobility is absolutely true, I have been almost religious about carrying out some form of each of them on a daily basis.  Mrs T and I even went to a Pilates class on holiday.  It was excellent and I can see how that form of cross training could really benefit a runner of advancing years, or any age.

Anyway, let’s get to an update.  Well, I have been jogging for about 3 weeks now.  The Devil ‘O the Highlands is in 2 weeks time.  That is 5 weeks of training before the Devil.  Which is 2 more weeks more than I had the last time I ran this race!! Totally true.  I was injured (again) for about 3 months in the lead up to the Devil race in 2014.  I bought my first pair of Hokas and went to Grand Canaria for a holiday.  Ran a few miles that week, did about 40 the next week and a 100 the following week, then tapered for a few days.  I actually did ok at that race, but I don’t feel as confident this time around and I expect to be sending John an email after my planned long Sunday run.  However, you never know, Sunday might actually go well and the email won’t be sent. 🙂

So that’s about it, there is really no update other than I have started to jog again, which to be honest, I am utterly delighted about. I just want to run, competing and racing are great, but running is the core.